It is a voice that has entertained and engaged Tamil listeners of China Radio International (CRI) for over three decades. It belongs to Kalaiarasi, who the listeners consider one in their family. The Tamil connection, however, stops there.

For Ms. Kalaiarasi is Ms. Zhu Juan Hua' s alias and she is the Head, Tamil Division of CRI. She talks in chaste Tamil to Karthik Madhavan about Tamil broadcasting in China and her experience in interacting with Tamil listeners.

Ms. Zhu says she is able to switch with ease between her real self and Kalaiarasi.

"Kalaiarasi is only my professional name and there is no contradiction between the two. In fact, they are only complementary."

In choosing Kalaiarasi, Ms. Zhu did not have a choice of any kind.

Like any other name she was just christened Kalaiarasi.

"Earlier I went on air with my given name, which the Tamil audience had difficulty in relating to.

"It only later when Prof. Ghadigachalam, a Tamil expert sent by the Indian Government to help CRI, joined the organisation, that I was given a Tamil name."

She adds that the listeners are now able to relate to her better because of the Tamil name.

The Tamil name Kalaiarasi may be fine for all practical purposes, but how come she writes and speaks chaste Tamil?

"I learnt Tamil in China and then came to India, where I studied in Mysore and then in Thanjavur Tamil University."

Having learnt Tamil and had a brush with Tamil culture, Ms. Zhu says the Kalaiarasi in her likes Thirukkural, the "mangala isai" with which the Tamil broadcast starts, and masal dosai, the favourite South Indian snack.

"I like Thirukkural for its brevity and message. The next is Tamil music, which we play for a while in CRI.

"I like Tamil music so much that while in Tamil Nadu I shop for music.

"The next is `masal dosai', which I feast on during my stay here." As she takes leave and hurries back to host a programme, which she came to participate in, Ms. Zhu has a question on her mind that has been troubling her for some time.

She asks, "We in CRI use chaste Tamil without any foreign words in our broadcast.

" But why is it that in Tamil Nadu we find `kotchai' Tamil with a lot of English words?"